Faith in Democracy Interfaith Vigil at the US Capitol, January 5, 2024.
Photo by Curtis Ramsey-Lucas
Making peace: remarks at the Faith in Democracy Interfaith Vigil at the US Capitol
On January 6, 2021, our nation’s capital was besieged by hostilities, manufactured fears, and unprecedented political fragmentation. In the absence of civilized discourse and the will to resolve differences peacefully, discord erupted into violence. Missing from the political discourse that day was any mention or vision of a beloved community as depicted in the Beatitudes.
Now gathered three years following those horrific events, we are still grappling with the uncertainty of our survivability and sustainability as a democracy. We are also asking: what is the prescription going forward for curing our inflamed divisions and unresolved conflicts?
A powerful prescription for the survival of our democracy is embedded in verse 9 of the Beatitudes: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.”
Put in the simplest terms possible: We must make peace with one another that transcends our differences if we are to survive as a democracy and as a human family.
Jesus demonstrated a profound concern for making peace, and cast a vision of a transformed society wherein humanity’s greatest needs are not overlooked, but met in full. He then called for peacemakers who will work toward this new reality.
Jesus envisioned a beloved community according to a new paradigm, wherein the last become first and the least desirable are the most beloved. He didn’t get bogged down with cumbersome categories of religious affiliation. He preferred the designation, “children of God” for all those who actively work toward peace and shalom. He did not use the term “peacekeepers,” for peace cannot be kept or maintained where it never truly existed.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called “children of God.”
What is our working definition for peace today?
In the Scriptures, peace is rooted in the ancient concept of shalom which includes justice, wholeness, health, food, clean water, shelter, safety from violence, and all the basic provisions required for human decency and dignity. In this comprehensive understanding of peace, when basic provisions are absent, then justice is also absent. Thus, Jesus said in verse 6, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice, for they shall be filled.”
When the basic necessities for a healthy and just quality of life are missing, then unrest, disease, and violence naturally follow. When people are unjustly denied the basic rights, privileges, and provisions needed for their survival, then peace is rendered impossible. Therefore, peace is never simply the absence of conflict. Rather, peace is the presence of dignity, mutual respect, opportunities, provisions, compassion, safety and justice. Provide all these things to those who need them most, and we will have a peaceful democracy.Gathered on these hallowed grounds where the symbol and seat of our democracy resides, we must ask the question: Whose responsibility is it to cast a vision of peace for our nation, and then to compel all citizens to pursue it?
Historically, we have looked to our political leaders to cast such a vision of healthy communities, to shape our moral discourse and to devise public policies that advance our peaceful co-existence. Casting such a vision requires moral fortitude, a sincere reverence for peacemaking, and a quality of moral discourse that transcends political maneuvering and wrangling. Blessed are those serving in our government who prioritize peacemaking.
-Peacemaking is predicated on love and respect for all people, not just respect for those who look like us or who share our political preferences.
–Peacemaking requires seeking the well-being of all people, and affirming that “their” families, “their” welfare, “their” dreams, desires, passions, and “their” futures matter just as much as our own.
As a society, a nation, and a world, we need to talk with one another to overcome the real issues that divide us and that undermine our peaceful coexistence. We need to recognize that offensive approaches toward one another are failing to achieve peace and are increasing tensions.
We need a peacemaking offensive whereby we seek to live together in harmony, or else—as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “We will all perish together as fools.” Dr. King also remarked that “Those of us who love peace must learn to organize as effectively as [those who love war].”
Our most urgent business as the Beloved Community is to seek and promote peace and justice.
Jesus’ exhortations 2000 years ago in favor of peacemaking are potentially transformative for our society today, and can lead to a better quality of life for everyone. In advocating for peacemaking, Jesus evidenced concern for the crowds facing injustice. Notice the actions of the Prince of Peace during his earthly ministry:
-He sided with the disinherited and the dispossessed in his day, incurring rejection and scorn from the powerful elites.
-He affirmed the dignity and the value of all human beings as God’s beloved children—as only a loving Parent and Creator God can do.
-He modeled preferential love for all people because each one has been created in God’s image, is beloved, deserving, valued, and matters to God.
-He reframed the social order by placing the least advantaged at the front of the line; not as a form of reverse discrimination, but in order to mobilize our collective assets to enhance the entire commonwealth.
Today, I call upon each of us to prayerfully consider how to incorporate peacemaking as a permanent component of our life’s work going forward. In order to make peace we must:
-Resolve our differences.
-Repent of past wrongs.
-Hold accountable those individuals and institutions that consistently take advantage of the least of these.
-Disempower and disable abusers.
-Create safe conditions for all people.
The task facing each of us today is to be bold and visionary enough to shift the prevailing paradigms favoring hostilities to a new set of paradigms in favor of peace. Rise above the divisions. End the conflicts and hostilities. Perhaps that is why the Good Teacher said, “Love your enemies…Do good to them that despitefully use you,” because someone needs to break the cycles of hatred, injustice, and violence.
Let us consciously become messengers of peace, and God’s reconciling love. Let us stand down animosity with the power of love. Let us overcome evil with good. Doing all these things is hard work, but this is what peacemaking is all about.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.